(Pocket-lint) - The Huawei Watch is in an interesting device, because it caters to a relatively niche group: techy, stylish, and well-off people who prefer the Google-Android ecosystem strapped to their wrist rather than an Apple Watch.
There's no denying the Huawei Watch is one of the most gorgeous-looking smartwatches on the market. However, it starts at $350 and increases to $800 depending on materials and watch band styles, so it's far from a budget purchase. That's similar in price to the Apple Watch, which is no accident: Huawei is gunning for the Cupertino giant's market with this Android Wear competitor.
The Watch is clearly targeted at customers who really care about how their devices look. So if that's you and you've got the spare cash, continue reading, because we'll explain why Huawei Watch is possibly for you. But if it sounds overly expensive then you're better off checking out something more affordable, like the second-gen Moto 360.
Is the Huawei Watch the Android Wear device we've been waiting for; the breakthrough device to penetrate a young but imperfect wearables market? Or would it be wiser to wait a little longer for smarter and more affordable tech to filter into the market for 2016?
Huawei Watch review: Options
Our Huawei (it's pronounced wah-way, by the way) review sample came with the "cold-forged" stainless steel case and matching mesh band, priced $400. For comparison purposes, Apple sells a very similar-looking Apple Watch with a stainless steel case and matching Milanese Loop band for $700. But keep in mind that's just one version of the Apple Watch.
The main differences between the two are that the Huawei Watch features a 42mm round case (screen is 1.4-inches in diameter and made of sapphire crystal) with a single button at the 2 o'clock position along the edge, whereas the Apple Watch has a 42mm rectangle case (also with a sapphire display) with a Digital Crown dial as well as a side button along the edge. Oh, and Huawei Watch runs Android Wear, of course, while Apple Watch runs WatchOS.
Unlike the new Moto 360 from Lenovo, which starts at $350, the Huawei Watch is only available in the one size. You can only buy it with a 42mm stainless steel case, and the 18mm or 21mm band options can be removed easily, thanks to a quick-release mechanism. Huawei offers leather, link, or mesh bands, while the watch is available in silver, black, or rose gold-plated. All models feature the same stainless steel body and specs, including a heart-rate sensor to the underside.
The market it all about options, with Apple and Moto leading the way in that department. Therefore the Huawei Watch isn't the best option if you want total and complete personalisation. If that doesn't matter, and you want an expensive-looking watch that could rival Apple Watch in terms of design but that costs significantly less, then the Huawei Watch will be a good fit. Can it take the Android Wear crown?
Huawei Watch review: Design
Problem number one: the Huawei Watch is huge and heavy.
It weighs 96g and the case's 42mm diameter is met with an 11.3mm thickness. Make no mistake: this Huawei doesn't escape the fact it's a hunk of metal strapped to your wrist - we tested it for two weeks at no point did we forget we were wearing it. That might be because we wore it with a 21mm band though, which, to be honest, is way too big for our wrist. A smaller watch face option would be logical too, but isn't available.
The way its designed also makes the Huawei Watch protrude from the wrist. Despite being about the same thickness at the new Moto 360 and slightly thicker than Apple Watch, we felt like the Huawei was jutting out from our wrist. We're not sure if large-wristed folk will feel the same way, but if you're small, we honestly don't think you'll want this watch. It's large, cumbersome, and although it looks sleek by itself, it doesn't exactly feel slim, light or chic to wear.
But it's certainly a well-constructed watch.
Huawei wants you to know the shiny stainless steel is "cold forged" - a metal-forming process often used on soft metals, including aluminium, that typically requires little, if any, finishing work. Yeah, okay. None of that really matters to the consumer. You just want it to look good and withstand the occasional scrape or bump into a table. During our weeks of testing we ran into a number of things, and this metal beast looks just as good as it did the moment we took it out of that fancy-schmancy wood box Huawei ships with every Watch.
Huawei Watch review: Display
The screen on board the Huawei Watch is a 400 x 400 pixel AMOLED display. That's a higher-resolution than the Apple Watch, but because it's a PenTile display, it doesn't look as crisp. It is, however, viewable both when indoors and out. In fact, it's a super bright display - and one that you have to manually dim.
However, before we dig any deeper into the "harder than Gorilla Glass 3" display, be aware that many of the latest Android Wear watches sport the same internal hardware. Decent processor, battery life that lasts for a day, mics for Google Now control, a tiny amount of storage for music, and so forth. Some even have GPS. So, when looking at Android Wear watches, you're going to want to pay attention to the physical design and build materials. Everything else doesn't really matter - not this early in the game anyway. But because of that, Huawei Watch easily stands out from the rest: it's all-metal, has a round-watch face, and features a sapphire crystal display.
Rather annoyingly the Huawei Watch doesn't feature an ambient light sensor, so you must go into settings to change the brightness (or enter a "theater" mode for when you're at the cinema). There are actually five brightness levels, with one being the lowest. You'll definitely want to keep it above level three during daytime use. Don't get us wrong: we're glad we have options, but brightness is a tedious thing to constantly change nonetheless, and an automated sensor wouldn't have been too tricky to install.
But avoiding such a sensor being built-in avoids the Huawei Watch having a "flat-tyre" look like the second-gen Moto 360. That is to say its display doesn't have a black bar along the bottom to disrupt visuals. The Huawei Watch has a fully-round display that is completely usable - and we prefer that to the eye sore of the Motorola.
Huawei Watch review: Performance
The Huawei Watch is powered by a 1.2GHz Qualcomm processor. That's backed by 512MB of RAM and 4GB of on board storage, which has become the de facto standard among Android Wear watches. Like we said, none of this really matters; the watch runs just as speedily as any other Android Wear device out there.
But beyond that, Android Wear isn't exactly the most performance-heavy OS. It's a light, vanilla software that doesn't require much in terms of processor clock speed or memory.
So, instead of geeking out over which Android Wear has the best chips and local storage offering and whatnot, instead it's all about the hardware-related features. The Huawei Watch, for instance, is IP67 water resistant, so it can get rather dusty and will still be fine. It can also be submerged in water to a depth of 1m for up to 30 minutes.
The Huawei Watch also includes support for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, meaning you can check your emails and notifications even if you aren't tethered to your smartphone. It's not completely phone-free though: setting up an internet connection requires a phone to enter your password, and you can't even get directions from Google Maps without your phone. Other downsides are that Huawei doesn't include GPS for tracking, nor NFC for mobile payments.
But the Watch does support iOS. That's right. You can download the Android Wear watch and officially use the Huawei Watch with an iPhone. It's not the full Android Wear experience, but you can read more about what's different here.
Huawei Watch review: Sensors
As far as sensors go, Huawei Watch features a step counter, heart-rate sensor, and barometer. This isn't an exercise tracker though. It can tell if you're climbing a mountain and shows you how little you move during the day while at your desk job and will tell you how fast your heart is beating all at the same time.
It uses your phone's GPS to become a run/cycling tracker, and the main fitness apps you'd use with it are the pre-loaded Google Fit and Huawei's own Daily Tracking. Enter your own metrics, and it tallies your steps, calories burned, and so on. You can even set your own goals. But it's not exactly reliable, especially if you're moving around a lot.
We tested the Watch on an elliptical trainer and a treadmill at the gym, and while both machines said our heart rate hovered around 120bpm, Huawei Watch was giving us an unusually-low 70bpm. So not totally not reliable.
If exercise is your main objective then we think you should consider the Moto 360 Sport. Or, if you can handle iOS, the Apple Watch Sport edition. They both have much better features for workouts.
Huawei Watch review: Battery
Huawei said the 300mAh battery inside Huawei Watch should last a full two days with the "always-on display" enabled under settings. This shows the time in black and white (even when you're not actively using the Watch) and dims the display after five seconds of inactivity to save life, meaning the display is technically always on.
We didn't find that true in our testing. We got one full day, maybe a day and a half of battery life. The Huawei Watch is a device you have to plug in every night - but the same can be said for almost all Android Wear watches out right now.
Charging occurs when using a magnetic dock that attaches to four metal pins on the back of the watch. Thanks to fast-charging, it takes about 75 minutes to reach a full battery (although that's not particularly fast compared to Quick Charge, which sees smartphones with batteries 10 times the capacity recharge in not much more time).
Unfortunately, Huawei didn't include a battery indicator by default. However, it did preload the watch with 40 customisable watch faces (you can also download more from Google Play), and some of those faces have a small lightning bolt symbol that indicates when the watch is charging.
Both the Moto 360 and Apple Watch have nightstand modes that turn them into bedside clocks when plugged in for the night, so that's something worth considering, should battery life and clock functionality be extra important to you.
Huawei Watch review: Software
Huawei Watch runs standard Android Wear, so check out our explore of version 5.1 by following the link below. For the purposes of this review, we'll let you know what it's like to use the Huawei Watch on a typical day.
The watch vibrates, and you look down to see a spam email arrive from LinkedIn in your inbox. Normal day, then. You then swipe from the left side to dismiss it. If you want to undo that, simply swipe from the top. You could also keep swiping up to see more notifications and alerts, such as missed messages from Slack, a new folder notification on Periscope, and so on.
The Huawei Watch basically serves up this stuff from your phone in the form of Google Now-type cards, and you can tap on any one of them to expand and see more detail. Some even let you swipe from the right to perform various actions. The stock weather card, for instance, shows you a week-long detailed view.
Other cards, like the one for missed calls, bring up a "block app" button when you swipe from the right. You just have to spend some time memorising these gestures and which ones do what on specific cards. It'll take you a bit of time, but Android Wear gives you a tutorial at the beginning and plenty of helpful tips along the way.
The Huawei Watch will display personalised cards with information on weather, transportation, sporting events, and more, as well as deliver notifications for text messages, emails, and calls from your iPhone or Android device, but it also supports always-on voice commands. At any time, you can say "OK Google" to search Google and jump into action with watch apps. It's probably the best part about Android Wear on Huawei Watch.
Alert and notification cards are just, well, "meh" though. They're big and fill up half the screen, blocking the watch face. Oh, and that side button on the watch is next to useless. It's not like the Digital Crown in Apple Watch, which you can use to scroll through apps and menus; on the Huawei the button just brings up general settings and stock apps with a long press or launches your current watch face with a quick tap.
To change the watch face, you have to hold down on the current face or use the Android Wear app. What should be easy stuff - like finding apps or changing watch faces - requires extra work, including scouring around the Play Store. Between that and all the swipes and actions and button pressing, Android Wear is fatiguing.
We do still like Android Wear, but at this point it just turns your watch into a vexatious second screen.
Huawei Watch is one of the most beautiful Android Wear watches you can buy. It's definitely got the look down, appearing attractive and enticing, just like the premium Apple Watch. That can't be said of any other Android Wear device. But it's also not very different to use compared to its direct competition, including the second-gen Moto 360.
As we said, the Huawei is the watch to get if you're techy, stylish, and well-off. At around $400, it's not a mindless or easy purchase. It's exquisitely made and among the first handful of watches to run Android Wear, so you will look extra dapper and smart wearing it. In fact, this is the type of watch you should wear when you dress up.
We can picture it looking mighty fine paired with a business suit. And due to its size, men will probably want this thing more than women, which narrows its pool of potential wearers. It's just a bit too big and heavy, and the way it juts from the wrist is off-putting (for us, anyway).
We like Huawei Watch. Seriously, we do. But here's what it boils down to: we wouldn't buy it over any of the other wearables out there just yet - we'd wait another year or two before spending hundreds on any Android Wear smartwatch.
Wearables are the future. We don't doubt that. But today is merely the present. And we're feeling patient for perfection.